The Freelance Writer’s Foolproof 15-Step Technology Guide

Carol Tice

The amount of technology freelance writers need to know about in order to earn from their craft has just exploded in recent years, hasn’t it? I can remember when knowing how to turn my computer on, use Microsoft Word and a fax machine pretty much covered me.

Now, the list of tech stuff I need to know in order to earn well as a freelancer is a long one and seems to grow with each new gig: Campfire, Google Chrome, WordPress, Box.net, Movable Type, Blogger, Picnik, and on and on.

Regular readers will recall that I am not a lover of technology, nor naturally good at it.

In fact, I find it incredibly frustrating and it often makes me cry like a baby.

But over the years of being compelled to learn all this sparkly new technology, I’ve developed a system that makes it easier for me.

Here it is below. Proceed through each step until you reach one that gets the technology working:

  1. Try downloading the thing. Try a few more ways, on different browsers.
  2. Update all your existing software in hopes that will somehow make the magic happen.
  3. When you have it downloaded, try installing the thing. Try a few more times until you think you’ve got it.
  4. Once you finally figure out how to download the thing and install it, try to use it.
  5. When you can’t understand how to use it to do what you want, you have your choice of: rip hair, cry, curse, lie on floor and suck thumb, play Bejeweled and forget about it, or go for a walk and try again later.
  6. After recovering your composure, do Google searches to find what other people who couldn’t make the thing work have said about how to fix it. Try their ideas.
  7. Read every page of the online help manual. Weep softly as you realize much of it is like Sanskrit to you.
  8. Read the forums and wikis about the thing. Continue weeping.
  9. Tinker randomly in hopes of making it all just suddenly decide to freakin’ work.
  10. Submit a series of email help ‘tickets’ and pray the Ukrainian or Irish or Indian support techs will take pity on you and help you.
  11. Ask on writer and blogger chat forums if anyone has successfully used the thing and could help you.
  12. Take a class at your community college or through Biznik or a Chamber colleague you met in how to use the thing.
  13. Experience all five stages of grief defined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: Denial that you will not be able to get the thing to work. Anger that you cannot get the thing to work. Bargaining with your deity to be granted special tech powers that will enable you to make tech things work easily. Depression that you are not the sort of person who rocks at tech stuff. Finally, acceptance that you suck at technology.
  14. Beg your teen to teach you how to do it, or your neighbor’s teen. Realize that although he knows all about it, he is too lazy to help you.
  15. Hire a professional to install the thing and teach you how to use it.

How do you cope with new technology? Leave a comment and let me know if there’s one of these steps you usually end up at, or if you have your own system. Coming up next week, I’ll tell you my favorite tech tools for making my freelance-writing business, and my blogging life, run smoothly.

23 Comments

  1. Judy

    This blog post was very timely–I had spent many hours over the weekend just before that resolving a tech issue. I was stressed because things seemed to be pretty messed up. (Sidenote: I was reminded of the importance of staying calm when computer woes happen. Stepping away from the challenge temporarily, not going into a panic, and trusting that it would work out really helped me solve the problem.)

    I did do one of the things you mentioned here, which was that I Googled the error message I was getting. Presto, I got the answer to the problem (it was in a tech discussion forum), I tried that, and it worked.

    It is super important to keep on top of the tech stuff. I have a free program called Malwarebytes Anti-Malware that is supposedly quite good. When I ran it over the weekend, it picked up a few infected files that I think might have been at least part of the cause of the problem I was having. Another good, free program is CCleaner. I run that daily, right after I start up my computer.

    After I resolved the tech issue I was having, I spent a lot of time updating various programs, etc. It can be very time consuming to properly maintain computers! It helps that I have a lot of tech writing/editing experience and have been around a lot of tech/IT/engineer people.

    Just thought of something–maybe in the new Freelance Writers Den, you could have a tech expert do a call or Webinar re: tech issues for freelance writers? The class could go over things like what maintenance we should do, and how often, what programs we should have (such as for antivirus, malware, etc.), tips on troubleshooting some common issues, etc. I think that would be super helpful to many people.

    In combination with my own efforts to manage tech issues, I find that it’s just about imperative to have a local tech support person to call when tech challenges arise. Many of these tech people work onsite (come to your home office to work on your computer), which is really convenient. Also it’s good to have a routine preventive “tuneup” on your computer(s). When I asked my local tech person this week how often to do that, he said once per year is good.

    I always try to look at the best use of my time. And at times, I figure it’s more prudent not to spend hours and hours of my time (thus eating away at freelance writing time/focus) resolving computer/tech issues, and instead pay a tech expert to resolve the problem for me. That can wind up being more profitable in the end. That is, say I pay the tech person $100 to resolve the problem relatively quickly, whereas I would have spent 8 hours figuring it out.

    So me resolving it would have cost me more money, in the end, in the form of my lost work/earning time. Plus the distraction and stress of it all costs time/money, too. This same principle holds true for anything else–it’s often cheaper and more efficient to hire an expert than it is to try to handle everything solo.

    That said, it’s good as solopreneurs to have at least a certain level of knowledge on tech/computer stuff and on the other aspects of our businesses (bookkeeping, taxes, etc.etc.).

    • Carol Tice

      Ooh, that’s a great idea to have tech workshops! I am totally putting that in the hopper. I know someone who could do how to install a WordPress site, off the top of my head, and I’m sure I have more tech experts I could bring to the group.

      And I think of it the same way — my billable hours at this point are very precious and valuable, so I want to spend as few of them as possible programming widgets…

  2. Steven A. Lowe

    Hi Carol!

    There is no silver bullet. Except perhaps #15 – but silver bullets can be expensive (and they don’t work on vampires)!

    Fortunately, there are some more efficient ways to go about the process.

    Before you buy/download/install a new piece of software, go to google.com and type in

    [name of software] bugs OR problems OR sucks

    where [name of software] stands in for the name of whatever software you are considering, e.g.

    Microsoft Word 2010 bugs OR problems OR sucks

    If you’re concerned only about a particular machine, add that to the beginning, e.g.

    Macintosh Microsoft Word 2010 bugs OR problems OR sucks

    Skim the first few results to see if there are any crippling limitations or issues.

    If you’re not sure about the vendor, go to google.com and type in

    [name of vendor] scam OR problems OR sucks

    Skim the first few results to see if the vendor is reputable.

    Note to vendors: this is exactly why paying attention to your online profile is important!

    If you have a specific purpose for the software in mind, try

    How to [specific purpose] in [name of software]

    For example, to find out how to lay out text along a path in MS Word 2010,

    How to lay out text along a path in MS Word 2010

    Again, skim the first few results to see if the software can actually do what you want it to do. If you don’t find the answer, try phrasing the [specific purpose] differently. Remember that search engines – even google.com – operate on what you type not what you mean. For now.

    Once you’re satisfied that the software can do what you want and the vendor is reputable, make sure you understand the installation instructions. Again at google.com

    How to install [name of software]

    If the results come back as anything resembling “first create a bash script with #sudo unpack \etc\blah\bin\whatever …”, run away screaming.

    Note to Linux vendors: this is why users hate you. It is also why you feel so smug and superior. Neither of these is making you money.

    Finally, if you have a problem installing or running the software and a specific error message appears, take a picture of the screen. On a Windows machine, press the Alt key and the PrintScreen key at the same time to take a picture of the current window (presumably the error window). The picture is stored on the clipboard so you can paste it (Ctrl+V) into an email or a Word document or a Paint program et al. This is easier than trying to write down or remember exactly what the error message said.

    Return to google.com and enter the name of the software plus the word ‘error’ followed by the exact error message – or at least the first few words of it – inside double-quotes. Sorry, you can’t just paste the screen shot into google. Yet. For example,

    Microsoft Word 2010 error “.NET runtime status 1337 technobabble overflow; jargon verbosity maximized”

    And remember: if all else fails, there’s always step #15.

    • Carol Tice

      Hahaha! I am that person who runs away screaming if I see it’s talking in tech Latin…

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Top 5: Link Jive – Change - Mission Engage - [...] 5. The Freelance Writer’s Foolproof 15-Step Technology Guide [...]

Related Posts

You CAN Write a Query Letter That Gets a “Yes”: 5 Resources

Freelance writer getting a gig after learning to write a query letter.

Love them or hate them, queries are one of the most important marketing tools for any freelancer who wants to write for magazines. And the skills you learn from writing a good query letter also help business writers and copywriters pitch their potential clients.

If you’ve been sending queries off into space and never getting a reply, you may think it’s impossible to break into new magazines. But it’s not true! Editors are always looking for new talent.

To help you learn to write a query letter that will get you the gig, we’ve pulled together a collection of five of our best posts on pitching:

Can’t Write? Try These 9 Ideas for Writing Motivation

It’s the bane of every freelance writer’s life: You know you need to sit yourself down and get some writing done, but nothing happens. The writing motivation just isn’t there. Sometimes, you can't even make yourself sit down with the computer -- even if you...